Monday, June 29, 2015

To say that the Confederacy was not pro-slavery is either delusional or dishonest

I'm sure Benedict Arnold didn't think of himself as a traitor either. Nor Marcus Brutus or Cassius.

NYT
"The case against Lee begins with the fact that he betrayed his oath to serve the United States. He didn’t need to do it. The late historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor demonstrated that 40 percent of Virginia officers decided to remain with the Union forces, including members of Lee’s family.
As the historian Allen Guelzo emailed me, “He withdrew from the Army and took up arms in a rebellion against the United States.” He could have at least sat out the war. But, Guelzo continues, “he raised his hand against the flag and government he had sworn to defend. This more than fulfills the constitutional definition of treason.” 
More germane, while Lee may have opposed slavery in theory he did nothing to eliminate or reduce it in practice. On the contrary, if he’d been successful in the central task of his life, he would have preserved and prolonged it. 
Like Lincoln he did not believe African-Americans were yet capable of equality. Unlike Lincoln he accepted the bondage of other human beings with bland complaisance. His wife inherited 196 slaves from her father. Her father’s will (somewhat impractically) said they were to be freed, but Lee didn’t free them. 
Lee didn’t enjoy owning slaves, but he was considered a hard taskmaster and he did sell some, breaking up families. Moreover, he supported the institution of slavery as a pillar of Confederate life. He defended the right of Southerners to take their slaves to the Western territories. He fundamentally believed the existence of slavery was, at least for a time, God’s will."

See also: Robert E. Lee's Oedipal Complex






2 comments:

  1. I'm not sure one can so blithely say that he "could have at least sat out the war." He was under a lot of pressure to command the Federal army from his old mentor, Scott, and to command the Confederate army from his patron and friend, Davis, not to mention being a prominent citizen and military officer. I think he pretty much had to do something.

    Also, though unpleasant today, his opinions on race were pretty in pace with the times, and his consistent inability to free the slaves his father-in-law left him little different than Jefferson's problems in that area (and in some ways more palatable, as he managed to not sleep with them). Washington is one of the few who comes out of slave owning looking halfway decent, as he did free his household servants in his will -- the only way it could be done then -- and made it stick.

    But Lee does have a lot to answer for on the slave question, as he not only managed his wife's 196, but controlled thousands of others for his sons, who also inherited from Custis.

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    1. I think that the killer question is, "What would have happened to slavery had Lee been successful?" The history of slavery in North America probably would have been longer and covered more territory. So, his actions (assuming command) were in support of slavery. Had he chosen otherwise (and listened to Scott), perhaps he could have ended the rebellion in a year or so, saving hundreds of thousands of American lives.

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